Michael D Higgins has warned political parties he is monitoring the situation.RollingNews.ie / Sam Boal

This year's news agenda in Ireland will be dominated by two happenings: the fast approaching general election and the centenary commemoration of the 1916 Rising. This column will be looking at the election over the next few weeks and the 1916 events will be keeping us busy regularly throughout the year.

But at this stage, as we head into 2016, it's worth taking an initial look at the commemoration of the 1916 Rising because so many people here these days are conflicted about it.

In school we all learned the old song “A Nation Once Again.” Well you could say we're now a nation once again conflicted.

This is not surprising. Along with being taught patriotic songs in school (especially if you went to the Christian Brothers back in the day) we also had hammered into us the glorious heroics of the 1916 Rising and the martyrdom of its leaders.

I can still hear the Christian Brother who taught me history roaring: England's Difficulty was Ireland's Opportunity! Our job was to roar the mantra back at him.

He strode up and down the classroom explaining that because the British were busy with the First World War in Europe it was the perfect time for a rebellion in Ireland. The picture of Pearse he painted was of a saintly, almost mythical figure who knew that a "blood sacrifice" was necessary "to awaken the Irish people."

Patrick Pearse surrenders.

Patrick Pearse surrenders.

As kids, we were fascinated and appalled in equal measure. What a hero! Pearse had led the Rising knowing the rebels could not win and he would either die or be executed.

He was deliberately laying down his life for Ireland. He had the vision to see that this would ignite a fire the British would not be able to extinguish. Slumbering Ireland would rise up and fight for its freedom.

Back then our school history ended with the War of Independence. There was no mention of the Civil War that followed.

Nor was there any questioning of whether Pearse had been right or whether the Rising had been justified. Even to us kids back in the 1960s, it all seemed a bit too pat, too simplistic.

As adults, most of us came to realize that the 1916 Rising -- and the context in which it happened -- was far more complicated than the simple heroic version beloved of the fiercely Nationalist Christian Brothers back in the day.

Which is why a lot of people here are now conflicted about commemorating the Rising. Of course we can admire Pearse and his comrades in arms.

There is no doubting their courage. And thanks to the monumental stupidity of the British in executing them, what they did eventually led to our freedom.

But nagging questions remain about the Rising and whether, given the hundreds of lives that were lost and the destruction of the center of Dublin, it was either justifiable or necessary.

Destruction caused by 1916 bombing.

Destruction caused by 1916 bombing.

The small number of rebels involved in the Rising declared in the Proclamation that they were acting in the name of the "dead generations" of the Irish people, but they had no democratic mandate from the Irish people who were alive at the time. In fact the vast majority of the Irish people in Easter Week 1916, particularly the people in Dublin who were directly affected, thought the rebels were ridiculous and opposed them.

None of the rebels had ever been elected to anything. But not only did the rebels not have any mandate, they were even disobeying the order of the chief of staff of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, who had directed that the action was not to go ahead. MacNeill believed it was premature and that there would be a better time to strike, particularly if Home Rule was not delivered. Given these two facts, it's hard to argue that the Rising had any legitimacy.

It is equally hard to argue that the Rising was necessary, given what was going on in relation to Home Rule at the time. Those who know the history will be aware that this is a very complicated subject, replete with what ifs and hypothetical scenarios.

What we know for a fact is that Home Rule for Ireland had been legally established by the British Parliament in 1914. Despite the delay in its implementation due to the war and the huge difficulty posed by Unionist opposition, it is reasonable to believe that it would have come eventually, without the counties in the North where the Unionists held sway.

Yes, senior British politicians were prevaricating, officers in the British Army were against it and the Unionists were a major problem. But having been passed into law by the British Parliament, there was no going back on Home Rule.

If the Rising had not happened, the return of so many former Irish Volunteers who had fought in the war on the promise that it would be granted would have seen to that. There were over 170,000 Volunteers in 1914, almost all of whom after the split followed John Redmond who had brilliantly extracted the Home Rule deal from Westminster.

Only around 10,000 Volunteers opposed Redmond and the 1916 rebels were only a fraction of that small number, a few hundred at most. So the "men of 1916" were a rump of a rump.

As this column has said before, there is no reason to believe that the British Parliament or the British people would have opposed Home Rule for Ireland at some point over the following 20 or 30 years. The imperial age was coming to an end.

The wheel of history was turning and everyone sensed it. Both Australia and Canada were given their legislative independence in 1931 (just 15 years after the 1916 rebellion). Why should Ireland have been any different?

The absurdity of our history is that after the "blood sacrifice" of the 1916 leaders, the subsequent War of Independence and the Civil War, what we ended up with was roughly the sort of arrangement that Home Rule would have given us anyway.

We got a parliamentary democracy as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth (like Australia and Canada). The king was head of state, represented here by a governor general (up to 1936!), and the British held on to some deep water ports. In time all that changed, but it would also have changed under a Home Rule arrangement.

It is at least arguable, and probably likely, that we would have got our independence within 20 or 30 years of 1916 without any bloodshed whatsoever. We would have got our freedom without creating the legacy of bloody violence that was subsequently used by the Provos to justify their murderous campaign during the recent Troubles.

And that, of course, is another reason so many people here are conflicted about commemorating the 1916 Rising. If you accept that the Rising was legitimate and necessary, it makes it far more difficult to condemn the murder and mayhem carried out more recently by the Provos who had no mandate either.

We can commemorate 1916 and the courage of those involved but, as the government appears determined to reflect, it needs to be done in a way that is mindful of the wider context at the time. Our painful past is far more nuanced than school history lessons back in the day admitted.

Making mythical heroes of the men of 1916 was understandable at one stage. But at this stage we should be grown up enough to handle the wider truth.

The trouble is, it leaves a lot of people very conflicted as we enter the year of commemoration.